By Jill Cowan
8:22 PM PDT, November 2, 2012
Finally getting around to figuring out your ballot? Here's a last-minute guide to Newport Beach's Measure EE, which proposes 38 amendments to the city's charter. (For a more in-depth look, see our story from Oct. 13.)
Proponents say the measure will update Newport's processes for the Internet age, make the city more efficient and protect it from costly class-action lawsuits. But beyond a few important provisions, supporters say most of the 38 changes are fairly mundane, like changing "he" to "he/she."
The measure is endorsed unanimously by the City Council, among other groups, like the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Opponents say it asks voters to approve too many changes with just one vote. Furthermore, they say, some of the components decrease transparency.
The measure is opposed by a group of longtime council critics, along with the League of Women Voters and others.
The following are some key changes.
Measure EE would add a provision banning red-light cameras from city streets. Proponents say the cameras are operated by private companies that lure cities into expensive contracts with the promise of revenue from tickets, and that a charter amendment banning them would stop future councils from being tempted.
Opponents say the change is a red herring, designed to get voters to shepherd the rest of the changes through.
One of the changes proposed in the charter would ban class-action lawsuits against the city. While opponents have questioned the legality of such a ban, the city attorney has cited the California Supreme Court Decision Ardon vs. the city of Los Angeles, in saying that it's acceptable.
Officials have said that although no other city seems to have such bans on the books, the move could save the city from being blindsided by predatory attorneys that don't really represent residents' interests. City Attorney Aaron Harp has said that groups could still sue the city by filing the same claim forms.
Measure EE proposes changing language surrounding council pay. The charter would be changed to say that the council members will be compensated for their work, but supporters say that doesn't amount to a pay raise. Council members already take home about $15,000 per year, plus about $500 extra per month for the mayor, but it has been categorized as a stipend. The changes say council members will receive about that same amount, only now, officially categorized as compensation.
Opponents say this provision is not transparent, because it doesn't mention the approximately $19,000 per year council members also receive in equivalent benefits. Proponents say the change is an update to make the compensation more transparent.
Conflicts of Interest
One provision pertains to a section of the charter laying out conflicts of interest in council decisions. The change would make it so that council members can't be financially interested in any contract "made by them in their official city capacity."
The charter now defines a conflict of interest more broadly, saying that council members can't have a financial stake in any contract or transaction "in which the city is a party."
Proponents say the rule now prevents residents who work for some of the city's biggest employers — including Hoag Hospital, which has contracts with the city — from running for council, despite that they have as big a stake in the community as anyone else.
Opponents say the change would loosen city protections against corrupt deals.